Led by Rutgers recruit, Ligonier Valley wrestling continues to grow

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 8:56 p.m.

Throughout his career at Ligonier Valley, senior Josh Patrick has given the program some much-needed stability during some rough times.

Now, during his senior season, Patrick, a Rutgers recruit, is looking to lead the young Rams (1-1) to the top of the Heritage Conference.

Just being in the mix, according to first-year coach Brian Matson, is a great feat for the rebuilding team.

“We are still a very young team,” he said. “We certainly have a few experienced ones to lead us … guys who have been around 5-6 years. But the vast majority started in middle school and have only been wrestling for 2-3 years.”

Matson, a former assistant at Ligonier Valley, gives a lot of the credit to the resurgence to both Patrick and his junior high coach, Tom Brown.

“For a lot of years we had, I guess, a lack of interest in the team,” he said. “Tom has done a great job of getting kids out for the team and learning the sport at a younger age. It hasn't happened overnight, but now we're starting to see some of the fruits of the hard work.

“I think other students have also seen the success Josh has had on both a local and state level and it's sparked a lot of interest. I guess you could say he's been great for public relations.”

The Rams, with the core of their dual match season approaching, are now able to fill 13 of the 14 starting spots — a significant improvement from past seasons. For instance, Ligonier Valley had just nine varsity members a few years back.

The Rams, with just two seniors, should have a full lineup soon as the 2-pound weight allowance kicks in — Ligonier Valley has been forfeiting the 113-pound class to this point.

Matson feels his team can be highly competitive in the majority of the matches. Due to some depth issues, however, he noted matchups will be very important.

“We're going to be tested,” he said. “I think we're going to be in some very tough, tight matches. There are some good teams and individual wrestlers coming at us so we're going to find out where we really are over the next several weeks. With our roster size, it's very important for us to get the matchups we need.”

Patrick, who will wrestle at 126 pounds in college, will serve as the anchor during the coming months. As a sophomore and junior, he placed fourth and fifth in the PIAA Class AA tournaments and has an 83-18 career record. He has also excelled in the classroom — posting a 3.87 grade point average.

He gained a lot of national exposure by winning the National Coaches' Association title at 113 pounds last year.

“He's got a terrific work ethic,” Matson said. “I don't know if I'll ever have another wrestler who works harder or does more. He obviously has a very high skill level but works tirelessly to improve every day.

“Overall he's a great kid and leader to his teammates. He's not a vocal guy but really is the true lead-by-example athlete. I hope all of my wrestlers can develop his work ethic and mental approach to the sport.”

In the fall, Patrick will join a Rutgers program on the rise. Currently ranked among the NCAA Top 30 teams, the Scarlet Knights will soon move to the Big 10 conference — one of the nation's elite for wrestling.

Along with Patrick, Rutgers has signed five other highly touted wrestlers for next year. Amateur Wrestling News has ranked the group the 11th best recruiting class in the country.

“I am very excited to have the opportunity to attend Rutgers University,” Patrick said. “My dad has always told me that ‘hard work pays off‘ and it has. I am thankful to my parents for their support and the values they have given me. Also, the many coaches I have had since I started playing sports — I have learned something from every one of them.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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